So the Hugo ceremony during this year’s Worldcon caused a lot of commentary online. I won’t concentrate on it though. George R.R. Martin received a lot of deserved criticism both on twitter and in longer posts and you may find a lot of valid arguments there (some summary is here). Yet one of the threads was brought to my attention and made me write this post.
Gateway to fandom
There have been a few gateways to fandom. It all started with fanzines and letters published in professional magazines. Then conventions appeared and over the years we have moved to the internet. I suppose that fanzines have lost a large part of their ‘gateway’ function but certainly conventions and the internet are still functioning as our ‘doors’.
We need to make sure those doors are open to everyone. It is important on many levels – we need more people to come and join us, and we want to hear various perspectives. This is why the thread by Foz Meadows was so important to me and it has kept me thinking since I read it.
Conventions may be a first contact with Fandom to many of us. They certainly were to me.
Cliques, circles and chains
It is definitely true that communities like SFF fandom tend to create cliques and circles. I won’t blame anyone for this, as I believe it is natural. When we have an opportunity to meet our friends once per year (or even less often) it is normal that we want to talk with them and spend time together. That is ok. Still, we need to be aware how it may look from the outside and we should make steps to avoid closing our circles.
Fandom is strong as long as we talk together, and as long as we are equal. If we close our circles too tightly we will be just a loose collection of groups, meeting in the same space at the same time. It would make us different groups of friends eating dinner at the same restaurant. I believe none of us wants this to happen. This is why I love the metaphor used by Foz Meadows – we need to make sure we will form a chain rather than circles. This way we will keep mingling and making new connections.
Yet it is not enough. We don’t want to interact only with people who already have friends. We need to make space also for new fans. Each and every one of us was once a new fan. We either were lucky and someone invited us to the circle, or we were not so lucky and we had to fight for our place (I was the lucky one more than once).
A few years ago I read a post about being open in fandom spaces. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who wrote it, and I cannot find the link. Yet what I remember is that the author pointed out what we can do to help others feel included. It is not enough to just ‘be ok’ with someone joining our discussion. What was mentioned is that we need to show our support and encouragement. An example was ensuring that there will be an empty chair in our circle that someone can take and join our discussion.
Smofcon was somehow difficult for me as it was held on another continent and I knew almost no one there. Yet thanks to womderful people I met I felt invited and I want to attend another Smofcon.
The doors are important
I need to emphasize how important it is to keep the doors open and welcoming. This is a first thing new fans will see. Whether they want to enter fandom through the conventions or through the internet, they will do so only if the doors will be both open and inviting. Very few people have enough strength to storm the closed door. Many may avoid getting through the open door if what they see inside is discouraging.
We need to keep this in mind, both on the internet and at conventions. Let’s be nice and welcoming. Let’s help others – especially those from marginalised groups – join fandom. And lastly let’s ensure they feel welcome here and make sure that their voices will be heard.
Swecon 2016 was my first convention abroad that was not an international event per se. Thanks to the fact that I met open people willing to drag me in I continued to travel to other conventions in foreign countries.
It is a hard work
You see, I am a shy person. I am masking it as good as I can but meeting new people stresses me out. Reaching out to people I don’t know makes me feel awkward and terrified especially by the small talk. I have met a lot of wonderful fans who helped me to make the first step. They invited me to their circles and started the conversation – and once it started, I was no longer stressed or terrified. We discussed things we loved – books, games, fandom or any other topics we all found interesting.
I am sorry for the quality of this picture but I wanted to show the Big Heart Award. For me this award encompasses the big heart that many of us have. I am really happy that I had the chance to meet a few of the winners and I believe they have been doing a great job of welcoming new fans in fandom.
I hope that over the years there were some people who considered a conversation with me as dragging them to the circle. Unfortunately, I know that I did not do enough in this regard. I could use my shyness as an excuse (and it would be true) but I must start working more on being the open person who helps others. I think most of us can work on this and together we can make our fandom a better and more welcoming place.
You may expect my CoNZealand report still this month.